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How a Setting Becomes a Character

If an author gets inside the skin of a place, the setting can behave like a character in the novel. Kindle reviewer, John J. Staughton, said of The First Lie: “I found King’s ability to paint a scene particularly impressive and the settings of the events in the novel were basically a character in their own right.”  I was thrilled by this assessment and started thinking about how I did it.

There’s a Buddhist monastery in Japan where the windows are narrow slits that only allow the monks to see a tiny slice of the view at any one time. The purpose is to increase their appreciation of the beauty of the landscape by limiting how much they can see. I believe it’s the same with the settings in a novel.  If the author limits how much they say about a place they have to dig deeper to say more with less, allowing the setting to reveal only some of its secrets — just like meeting a character and getting glimpses of their nature. In both cases the reader is invited to wonder and speculate.

A first person narrator also encourages the author to give a setting more character because what they describe has an emotional element.  For example, in Chapter One of The First Lie, Selkie describes downtown Honolulu right after fleeing a scary experience in her Waikiki flat: I get off the bus and walk past concrete towers and groomed gardens. This city’s struggle to tame paradise aways seems a bit naive — against the rugged hills on one side and the raging sea on the other. But today the sight of all this concrete and glass feels almost reassuring.

What does the photo of the church say about its character?